Coronavirus: How to manage a furniture business in lockdown

How to cope with the coronavirus financial crisis and emerge from it even stronger.

A man enters the main branch of Bank Hapoalim, Israel's biggest bank, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 18, 2016. Picture taken July 18, 2016 (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A man enters the main branch of Bank Hapoalim, Israel's biggest bank, in Tel Aviv, Israel July 18, 2016. Picture taken July 18, 2016
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
 Bianca Huber
An Increase in Delivery of Packages to Grandma and Grandad
“My husband Ayal Shababo and I opened our chocolate shop in Merkaz HaCarmel in Haifa 16 years ago, and ten years ago we expanded it and turned it into a shop selling gifts and design features for the home. On one side are quality chocolates of all kinds from Israel and around the world, and on the other is furniture that complements it, such as mirrors, side tables, cushions, rugs and other accessories. We have another store in downtown Haifa that sells gifts and design features, but it is still closed. Before the pandemic there were four girls working here, but during the first lockdown I had to let two of them go, and the other two I furloughed.
“At the beginning of the first lockdown we did not work, but then council inspectors came to visit and told us that we were defined as a vital business because we sold food products, so we were allowed to open in accordance with the Purple Badge guidelines. So we opened, but there were no customers, because everyone was in lockdown. It’s important to understand that we have very old customers, many of whom were afraid to leave the house, because there was very little understanding of the virus. But we kept in touch with our customers, announced on Facebook that we were open and that if anyone was afraid of coming to our store, we had a regular courier who would bring deliveries and gift packages to their door.
“In the few weeks that have passed since the end of the third lockdown, there has been a noticeable increase in sales and orders. People come out of lockdown and feel like they need a change of some kind—a new piece of furniture for their home or the chocolate they’ve been dreaming about. People are also not flying abroad or going on holiday, so they need to compensate themselves somehow. There are a lot of customers who send indulgent gift packages to grandma and granddad, for example, who they have not seen for a very long time. Looking back, the last year has only reinforced my belief in the importance of delivery services and digital advertising and marketing, because without them you will not be able to promote your business.”
The writer is the owner of Chokolata – Chocolate Boutique Stores.
125 HaNassi Blvd, Haifa. Tel: 052-3447104
Esteri Tal
Remote Online Design with the Client
“The business was set up 20 years ago in Kibbutz Mahanayim, and two and a half years ago I bought it together with my partner, Inbal Akrish. It is an impressive warehouse that extends over 400 square meters and contains the best that Morocco has to offer—from traditional cups and crockery, through fabrics and textiles, home and garden furniture, and traditional tools, to clothes, shoes and fashion items. We might be based in the far north, but because our business is so unique and it has such a cool vibe, many of our customers from central and southern Israel who are traveling in the area combine it with a trip to visit us.
“During the first lockdown we furloughed our workers, but we have since brought them back. We understand that if we want to survive, we need to work on our online presence. We had a small sales website that we had set up previously, and during the pandemic we gave it a complete overhaul. We invite a photographer to take pictures of the items, and we describe them and include prices. We are very active on Facebook and Instagram and collaborate with celebrities. Later, we also added a new service—online design. The client films a video of their home, sends it to us, and we offer suggestions—how to design the space and what to include in it.
“There is a clear need to expand during this period. So we developed alternative methods. For example, instead of the one delivery driver we would occasionally work with, today we work with a courier service as well as operating a special delivery service for furniture and large items. I’m just disappointed that all of our business development has been brought to a halt in the last year. Imports from Morocco continue to arrive, and we are in touch with our suppliers there, but it isn’t the same as it was before COVID-19, when we used to fly to Morocco and fill the container ourselves with things we had bought from drifting around the markets or from meeting new suppliers. So we are waiting for the skies to open so that we can continue to move forward on that too.”
The writer is the co-owner of Moroccan Fantasy. Kibbutz Mahanayim. Tel: 050-2766965
Omer Hermoni
Enable Collection in Exchange for a Discount
For Bianca from Chokolata, I would recommend setting up a sales website—not only for the COVID period, but as a channel for increasing regular sales for the business. I did not see package deals and/or offers for delivery on the Facebook page of the business. She stated that she kept in touch with her customers via Facebook, but we should distinguish between a post that only approximately 8% of those who have liked the page will see, and carefully segmented paid promotions that reach a far greater number of potential customers. As a significant part of the customers in this case are old people who are perhaps not well-versed in digital media, I recommend distributing flyers around the neighborhood with appealing deals and delivery details.
The girls from Moroccan Fantasy do have an impressive sales website, as well as a decent Facebook page. There is a definite sense that they are not letting the restrictions of the lockdowns destroy their business. Their new offering—remote online design for the client—is creative, and I hope it is managing to help them. My tip for the business is to enable visitors to the north to “click and collect” in exchange for a discount, to encourage them to integrate it as part of a trip to the Galilee Panhandle.
The writer is a business consultant
Orit Farid
Additional Income from Solar Power
The common denominator for all the businesses that survived this year and even succeeded is that they were able to adapt to the circumstances. As we were often confined to our houses and unable to wander among the shelves of the stores, restricted to making online purchases, those businesses that were able to expand and enhance their sales offering so that it would not require leaving the house, benefitted. They continued to enjoy a flow of sales and even expanded their customer base, developed their internet sales skills, and leveraged their social media presence to their benefit.
The current situation is forcing businesses to keep a close eye on their cash flow to be prepared for rainy days, as the past year has demonstrated. Now is the right time to make the most of the time and to examine additional sources of income that are suitable for the changes. For example, assessing target audiences and appealing to new ones, selling business acumen and experience through lectures and media marketing, or even investing in solar energy by making the most of any spare roof space (on your home, business, or agricultural structure) to set up a solar infrastructure with supportive funding from the bank and thereby gaining an additional source of income from the Israel Electric Corporation.
The writer is the manager of the business department at the Hazor branch of Bank Hapoalim